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Thursday, November 1, 2012

Bankruptcy and Beyond: What You Need to Know

When President George W. Bush signed the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act of 2005 (BAPCPA), the laws governing the filing of bankruptcy changed drastically. One major change under BAPCPA requires all debtors filing bankruptcy to attend two credit counseling courses, one before filing and one while a case is pending.

While some aspects of the U.S. Bankruptcy Code did not change at all when BAPCPA was enacted, some underwent minor tweaks while others were overhauled completely.    

An example of a section of the bankruptcy laws that was amended revolves around the options available to a Chapter 7 debtor if their case includes secured debt. Financial obligations are secured if there is collateral a creditor can recover from a debtor if they don’t pay their bills on time. For example, if a debtor gets behind in their home mortgage payments, the bank or whoever lent them the money to buy the house can foreclose on it.

There are three options available to a Chapter 7 debtor whose bankruptcy includes secured debt. To reaffirm a debt is to sign a contract with the creditor indicating the debtor wants the debt to continue even after their bankruptcy is discharged. Surrendering occurs when the debtor returns the collateral to the creditor. The third alternative is redemption.

When a debtor seeks to redeem secured property, it means they want to keep it. This is accomplished by submitting one lump sum payment to the creditor for the value of the collateral.

While this may sound simple, there are a few limitations on a debtor’s ability to redeem secured property. First, the secured property has to be worth less than what the bankruptcy laws allow a debtor to own, and those limitations differ from state to state. Secondly, the bankruptcy court has to abandon its interest in the collateral, meaning it has no interest in taking it from the debtor to sell to repay some of the debts that debtor owed.

Another tricky aspect of redemption is also related to the jurisdiction where a bankruptcy case is filed. Since each state has its own rules, called exemptions, about how much a debtor is allowed to keep after filing bankruptcy, a redemption may not be possible, for a few reasons. For example, some states only allow a debtor to have $400 cash on hand when they file a Chapter 7 bankruptcy. If a debtor in that state wants to redeem collateral for $500, they have more cash than their state laws allow. While some states do also offer a ‘catch-all’ exemption so a debtor could potentially redeem the item in question, that option is not available everywhere, so it’s important to consult with an experienced bankruptcy attorney on that matter.


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Serving Southeastern Wisconsin, with offices in Milwaukee and West Bend, Affliated Attorneys, LLC represent clients throughout Milwaukee County, Washington County, Waukesha County, Dodge County, Ozaukee County, Racine County, Sheboygan County, Jefferson County, Fond du Lac County and Walworth County.



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